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Boston’s Terror Attack: Three Musts for Leading in a Crisis


American’s are on the alert again, much like we were after September 11, 2001. Two blasts went off during the Boston Marathon, killing at least three people and injuring over a hundred others. While experts say it was unlike the magnitude of 9-11, and more like the horror of a bad bus crash—those who were there might beg to differ. Explosions hurled shrapnel into onlookers, some losing arms or legs, making Boylston Street look like a war zone. Our hearts and our prayers go out to them.

After reading about the attack, my first thought was: how do leaders respond in moments like these?  Emergency workers and police officers were already present and people were cared for medically with incredible speed and professionalism. But most who were uninjured just looked around in a daze. They didn’t know what to do. In moments like these—leaders must know what is needed most.

Three Actions Leaders Must in Crises

1. Be clear.

Crises spawn chaos and confusion. People are creatures of habit, and most of us love the comfortable and the familiar. In moments of uncertainty, people need clarity from their leaders. Even if you cannot offer much counsel or direction, be clear with what you can offer. In panic, people need purpose. Clarity provides focus and positive, directed energy to people, like a river instead of a flood. Emergency workers also felt the daze of the attacks for a split second, then their training kicked in immediately. They offered clear steps for people to take.

2. Be resourceful.

Once again, few expect a terrorist attack to interrupt their day. In times of crisis, effective leaders become very resourceful using whatever tools, aids and advantages they can to solve problems. After the attack, lanyards were being used as tourniquets. People with any level of medical background were put to work. In times like this, leaders don’t expect to have perfect conditions to respond to; instead they make the most of what they have at their disposal. This is what military officers and emergency workers are trained to do. It’s also what good leaders do.

3. Provide hope.

Tragedy and crisis are emotionally expensive. They drain our emotional tanks. Leaders know that what people need when they panic is hope. Hope replenishes our emotional tank and enables us to go on. Obviously, I am not speaking of empty hope or cheesy platitudes right after someone is injured, but rather well-timed, authentic words of hope and encouragement. It must be perceived as reasonable or the listener won’t buy it, so leaders understand the words of hope must be thoughtful and rational. John Maxwell has said, “Where there’s not hope in the future, there’s no power in the present.”

May we learn from this tragedy how to better care for people and respond to crisis. Can I hear from you? Would you add anything to this list?


  1. charlene.fonseca on April 17, 2013 at 7:28 am

    Does this mean that more of us “normal” people should train in emergency preparedness? Mr. Elmore, I’m disappointed that I don’t catch your replies to comments!

  2. charlene.fonseca on April 17, 2013 at 7:30 am

    My apologies, spoken too early. I do see some of your comments on here. Haven’t before, but my error.

    • Tim Elmore on April 22, 2013 at 9:28 am

      Hi, Charlene. Thanks for reaching out. To answer your question, I think being ready to leverage your abilities and resources at the time of emergency goes a long way. I’m not encouraging you to necessarily train, but rather have confidence in your ability to serve in an emergency. You are probably more able than you think!

  3. Ryan Latham on April 17, 2013 at 8:10 am

    “Even if you cannot offer much counsel or direction, be clear with what you can offer.” This is so good TIm. So many times we think that we don’t have anything to offer. In a crisis what you have to offer might be the exact thing that is needed. If nothing else, you have the ability to HELP.

    • Tim Elmore on April 22, 2013 at 9:22 am

      Thanks for the post, Ryan. Communicating that one ability is helpful and calming.

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Boston’s Terror Attack: Three Musts for Leading in a Crisis